25 detained

More than 100 cops, soldiers shut down Mount Salem, the first special zone

BY MARK CUMMINGS
AND HORACE HINES
Observer staff reporters

Saturday, September 02, 2017

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MOUNT SALEM, St James — More than 25 people were reportedly detained in the Mount Salem Police Division here in St James yesterday during the first day of operations under the Zones of Special Operations (ZOSO).

At a press conference in Kingston yesterday, Prime Minister Andrew Holness declared the Mount Salem Police Division in St James the first zone of special operations under a recently passed law because of increasing crime in the community.

Prime Minister Holness, in declaring the first special zone at a press conference held at Jamaica House, said, “The rule of law must be upheld and preserved in every nook and cranny of Jamaica. We can no longer afford any area to provide a safe haven for criminals to hide. Zone by zone, community by community, square inch by square inch, we will establish and restore public order, citizen security and public safety. We will make Jamaica safe again.”

Holness said the decision to declare Mount Salem as the first zone was based on police statistics, which show that the area is a major crime hotspot.

The Law Reform (Zones of Social Operations) (Special Security and Community Development Measures) Act, 2017 allows the security forces to operate under special conditions in a designated geographical area.

Yesterday, the joint forces imposed a curfew in Mount Salem, including the tough Crawford Street community, which police say has accounted for 16 of the 54 reported murders committed in the police division since the start of the year.

The curfew which began at 6:00 am will remain in effect until 6:00am tomorrow.

Police say there are roughly 12 gangs operating in the division, some of which Deputy Commissioner Clifford Blake yesterday named as Junglists Alliance, Texas Faction, Temple Lane, and OG.

“In 2014 there were 46 murders in Mount Salem and its environs; in 2015 it rose to 70 murders; in 2016 the figure was 85 murders; and so far 54 murders have been recorded,” Blake told reporters at the Jamaica House press conference as he sought to justify why the St James community was selected for special attention

When the Jamaica Observer visited sections of Mount Salem yesterday a number of lawmen were observed interacting with residents.

One resident told the Observer that the lawmen could not have come at a better time. “I personally welcome the police and the military in the area.

“At least we will feel more secure now. They are needed in the community because there is just too much crime and violence here,” said the woman.

Councillor for the Mount Salem Division Kerry Thomas told the Observer that there have been “mixed feelings” among residents about the operation.

“Some residents welcome them but others are saying that they are inconvenienced by the operation,” said Thomas, who represents the Opposition People's National Party.

He argued, however, that “at the end of day we hope and trust that the lawmen don't abuse their power”.

Meanwhile, a police sergeant who was a part of yesterday's operations in Mount Salem said the security forces were “on top of things” in the area.

“So far, everything is going well,” he said, adding that the security forces were getting “good support and cooperation” from residents.

President of the Montego Bay Chamber of Commerce and Industry (MBCCI) T'Shura Gibbs yesterday welcomed the declaration of the first Zone of Special Operation in St James, which has jumped in violent crimes over the past few years, with a number of them linked to the deadly lottery scam.

“We asked for affirmative actions and we have seen affirmative action,” Gibbs said.

She, however, questioned if individuals who had left for work early would have difficulties returning home, given the imposition of a curfew in the special zone.

In addition, the chamber president had concerns over whether justices of the peace were sufficiently briefed to undertake their responsibilities.

“Is everything in place? Are we ready for full implementation? Are the JPs briefed and are the ones who are going to be assigned to this community of Mount Salem in Montego Bay trained and adequately prepared to undertake the role that they are expecting to undertake, commencing today (yesterday)?” Gibbs questioned.

Acting Custos of St James Claudette Bryan assured the Observer that justices of the peace were ready.

“We have adequate justices of the peace. We don't have any concerns at the moment,” said Bryan.

Gibbs, meanwhile, said she was pleased to see that there was not a “mass roll-out across the entire country, but that we have selected one community”.

“I hope that we will now make sure to perfect it in that community before we consider rolling out across the country,” the MBCCI president stated, adding that she would love to see a press conference in Montego Bay on the roll-out of the Zones of Special Operations.

The more than 100 members of the security forces who were assigned for duties in Mount Salem yesterday are expected to remain in the community for 60 days.

Holness, however, indicated that if targets of the operation have not been met within the 60-day period the matter will be taken to Parliament where a decision would be made on whether or not the operation should be continued within the zone.

Major Godfrey Sterling of the JDF and Superintendent of Police Kirk Ricketts will have joint command of the Mount Salem zone, following written nominations by the chief of defence staff and the commissioner of police.

Holness also revealed that Omar Sweeny, managing director of the Jamaica Social Investment Fund, has been appointed as deputy chairman of the Social Intervention Committee that is to be established within five working days. The committee will be required to identify social needs and the actions necessary in the special zones.

The prime minister, in an apparent response to human rights concerns, said specific measures were put in place to safeguard the integrity of the Zones of Special Operations.

“Every single weapon that is going to be used within a zone has already been registered with the Institute of Forensic Science and Legal Medicine,” he said.

He added: “All members of the JDF and JCF who are members of the joint force will have a name badge visibly displayed so they will be able to be identified by name.”

The prime minister, who said Parliament will be updated within 14 days about activities in Mount Salem, said the security council will convene periodically to receive and consider the written report of the joint command that must be submitted every 10 days.

— Additional reporting by Deandra Morrison

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